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New Indian restaurant brings urban lounge vibe to Groton

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Groton — Walk to the back of Mint Leaf for lunch on a weekday and you'll find a buffet with dishes such as chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, goat curry, kadai paneer, onion bhaji, naan and desserts.

Owner CJ Patel feels the speedy option and convenient location will appeal to Electric Boat employees.

On Sundays, the "grand buffet" includes more Southern Indian dishes, such as dosa, chaat and chickpea salad.

Patel, 32, opened Mint Leaf at 770 Long Hill Road — formerly Cornerstone Bookstore — on July 27. The Cromwell resident, who moved from Gujarat, India, to the United States at age 21, previously ran Namaste India in Southington, which he opened in 2010 and sold last year.

Patel brought in his friend Pemba Bal, who previously worked at Thali, as executive chef.

Looking around Groton, where he operated a liquor store, Patel saw the need for something more "upscale" and different.

The new eatery is 3,900 square feet and seats 125, with outdoor seating on a back deck. It's more of a lounge than a bar, with sleek black couches between the six-person tables near the buffet, and booths and bar tables toward the front. Stretching across a side wall is a bar that Patel said carries 80 craft beers, 65 wines and more than 100 varieties of bourbon and scotch.

Opposite the bar is a large mural featuring a dancer, flowers, mandalas, peacocks and an elephant. Adorning the wall next to it are jars of mustard seed, coriander, bay leaf, cardamom and other spices.

Dozens of Edison light bulbs hang from the ceiling.

Patel plans to start hosting live music at Mint Leaf in two or three weeks. Other plans are for regular ladies' nights, date nights, trivia and the occasional DJ night. Regular entertainment options include a pool table in the front corner and four TVs on the wall behind the bar.

There is a happy hour every day from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., which manager Stephanie Kennedy said features 10 percent off draft beers, wines, tacos, anything from the grill and kebabs.

This past Thursday, Jewell Jones brought her friend Darrell Fox to the restaurant for lunch. While it was Jones' first time trying the buffet instead of ordering off the menu, she said with a laugh that she has been to Mint Leaf all but two days since it opened the Thursday before.

"I kind of tiptoed into Indian food, and I'm finding I really enjoy it," she said. "There's a lightness to the meal, so when you walk out you don't feel overly stuffed."

One of her favorites is the lamb mint burger.

The striking thing about Mint Leaf is that "you walk into this place and it's a whole different environment," she said. "You don't feel like you're in Groton, Connecticut, when you come in."

One Facebook review described the atmosphere as "very sophisticated with a New York urban vibe."

"This is going to be a catalyst for change for downtown, because there's no place like it in Groton, based on the layout, the design and the feel when you walk in," said Chris Regan, whose family owns the building. "You feel like you're going to a restaurant that's in Boston."

e.moser@theday.com

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